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Hurricanes owner relieved after playoff clincher

Dundon ready to enjoy Carolina's first trip to postseason since 2009

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

When the final horn sounded at PNC Arena on Thursday and the Carolina Hurricanes had officially clinched a Stanley Cup Playoff berth for the first time in 10 seasons with a 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils, players hugged and briefly celebrated while their jubilant fans did the same in the stands.

Watching from the owner's suite, Tom Dundon's initial reaction was a little different.

"I was relieved," Dundon said Friday. "I've been nervous the last few weeks. It's better today, for sure."

In many ways, Dundon is still new to all of this. But almost 15 months after he became the majority owner of the Hurricanes on Jan. 11, 2018, he understands well what the moment meant to the organization and the fans who have waited so patiently for the chance to watch playoff hockey again.


[RELATED: Friday Four: Hurricanes in playoffs for first time in 10 years | Hurricanes rode improved work ethic under Brind'Amour back to playoffs]


"When you count all the things that have happened for the organization historically and recently, I felt like that was the most important step to take," Dundon said.

Which is why Dundon had been so stressed over the past couple of weeks.

Heading into their game against the Devils on Thursday, the Hurricanes (45-29-7) held the first wild card into the playoffs from the East with two games remaining. But they were only one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who held the second wild card via the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker, and the Montreal Canadiens.

Although the Hurricanes' hold on a playoff position was far from certain, they were in position to clinch a berth if they defeated the Devils and Montreal lost to the Washington Capitals. The Canadiens' 2-1 loss to the Capitals ended one minute before the Hurricanes completed their victory against the Devils, allowing Dundon and everyone else at PNC Arena to exhale.

Video: The Hurricanes storm back into the NHL Playoffs

"It was really stressful until last night," Dundon said. "Now I can enjoy it. There's a lot of people -- fans, players, coaches - that have been around a long time. You sort of inherit the legacy a little bit and you're trying to change that, but I've only had to deal with it for a year and a half.

"So you're very happy for people who have spent a long time trying to fix this."

The Hurricanes' most recent playoff series, a four-game sweep by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference Final, feels like a lifetime ago.

Rod Brind'Amour was the Hurricanes captain that season and when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. Now, he's in his first season as their coach and leading them again.

"I can't think of anybody I've ever seen that fits better at what their job is," Dundon said. "He's just great at it. He's been perfect."

Dundon had similar praise for Don Waddell, who added the duties of general manager this season in addition to his role of team president, and the players for their businesslike approach to a moment Thursday that he hopes becomes routine in the future.

"The players didn't stop to celebrate much. They had their minute and they were back working out," Dundon said. "It's another season, I guess, for them now. For me, I felt like the organization needed this step. I knew they were good enough and I wanted them to get what they deserved.

"Obviously now, you're supposed to try to win, right?"

That is the idea, and though the Hurricanes' opponent for the Eastern Conference First Round has yet to be determined, Dundon believes they will have as good a chance as any team to win the Cup.

"There's not going to be a team that makes the playoffs that can't win the Stanley Cup," he said. "That's one of the intriguing things about this game."

Dundon has heard the stories of what PNC Arena was like during the Hurricanes' postseason glory days: the run to the 2002 Cup Final, winning Game 7 of the 2006 Final at home and reaching the conference final in 2009. He's gotten a taste of it in recent weeks, and the atmosphere on Thursday was another step up.

The crowd of 17,645 increased Carolina's average attendance for its final 23 home games to 15,481, up from an average of 12,842 in their first 18. Dundon said there's still a lot of room for improvement there, but playoff ticket sales are going well.

"The playoffs are obviously going to do great, but we're up (in attendance) and we're not close to where we need to be and want to be," he said. "We appreciate the people that are coming and now we've got to give people a reason to come, and they're starting to, for sure, right now."

If all goes according to plan, there will be more reasons for the fans to come in the coming seasons.

The Hurricanes have some older players such as 37-year-old captain Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup-winner, including with the Hurricanes in 2006, and 30-year-old center Jordan Staal, who won the Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009. But their young core, led by 21-year-old center Sebastian Aho, 24-year-old forward Teuvo Teravainen and 24-year-old defenseman Jaccob Slavin, are keys on a team with an average age of 26.

Video: CAR@NSH: Aho scores empty-net goal to seal win

"We're right where you need to be to be a really good hockey team today and for a long time," Dundon said. "So, I think we feel good about the future, but obviously you just care about this playoff run right now."

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